DMR reviewing comments on offshore drilling

calee@sunherald.comNovember 19, 2013 

BAY ST. LOUIS -- Jamie Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, expects to decide by mid-December whether proposed regulations for seismic testing and oil or gas drilling leases off the Coast are consistent with the agency's Mississippi Coastal Program.

In 2004, the state Legislature charged the Mississippi Development Author

ity with drafting rules for seismic testing and leases for offshore oil or natural gas extraction in Mississippi waters. MDA also would lease out the areas for drilling through a bidding process.

Drilling would be allowed just offshore, in areas along the Alabama and Louisiana state lines, and mostly south of one-mile buffers around the barrier islands to federal waters.

Miller's staff is reviewing MDA's proposed rules for seismic testing and leasing. "It's simply an administrative process right now," said Miller, who added any drilling permits would require additional approvals, including from the DMR.

Jan Boyd, director of the DMR's Office of Coastal Zone Management, told the DMR's governing board Tuesday the staff is reviewing 100 public comments Coastal Program agencies and residents submitted about the proposed rules. The DMR's governing board, the Commission on Marine Resources, does not have to vote on the proposed rules.

Miller said after the meeting no local government boards commented on the rules.

A number of people spoke about the rules during the CMR meeting, including representatives of the Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club. They appealed to the DMR to slow down the process, saying MDA offered little notice or time for comment before drafting its rules.

The MDA is treating the issue as a simple lease transaction, said Andrew Whitehurst, water policy director for the Gulf Restoration Network. He said the DMR has the ability and duty to insist on protections for the barrier islands and state waters afforded under the state's Coastal Plan.

"Looking at direct, indirect and induced effects now can give DMR leverage to ask for more than the minimum protections of coastal resources down the road if drilling near the barrier islands comes to pass," Whitehurst said.

He said the DMR's earlier comments on proposed rules didn't produce many changes. "DMR could at least require MDA to write a standard lease form, and ask for more specific language to protect fisheries and the coastal ecosystems that support them," he said.

The consensus is natural gas is more likely than oil to be found in Mississippi waters. Drilling proponents claim natural gas rigs would not be visible from beaches. Before the state legislation, they say, all state waters were theoretically open to drilling.

However, Coast environmental, political, business and tourism organizations have all expressed opposition to offshore drilling in Mississippi waters.

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